Daniel Snyder faced sexual assault allegation in 2009, document shows

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An employee of Washington’s NFL team accused owner Daniel Snyder of sexually harassing and assaulting her in April 2009, three months before the team agreed to pay the woman $1.6 million as part of a confidential settlement, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Washington Post.

The woman accused Snyder of asking her for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to a letter sent by an attorney for the team to the woman’s lawyer in 2009. The woman alleged the assault occurred in a private, partitioned area at the back of one of the team’s private planes during a return flight from a work trip to Las Vegas.

Snyder denied the woman’s allegations, the letter states, and a team investigation accused her of fabricating her claims as part of an extortion attempt. But Snyder and the team eventually agreed to pay her a seven-figure sum as part of a settlement in which she agreed not to sue or publicly disclose her allegations.

The existence of a $1.6 million settlement was first reported by The Post in 2020. Details of her allegations have not been previously reported. They emerge as the NFL investigates a separate accusation of sexual harassment against Snyder and as members of Congress press the team and the NFL for information about the league’s year-long investigation of sexual harassment at the franchise, which concluded in 2021 with no public report or investigative findings.

Snyder, through his attorneys, declined an interview request, and his attorneys declined to comment. Snyder called the woman’s claims “meritless” in a court filing in 2020, saying the team only settled at the request of an insurance company. His accuser and her attorney, Brendan Sullivan, declined to comment. The Post typically does not name alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent.

The letter obtained by The Post was written by Howard Shapiro, an attorney at WilmerHale law firm, which had assisted in investigating the woman’s allegations. In his letter, written in response to the woman’s legal threats, Shapiro argued forcefully that her claims were “knowingly false,” made numerous allegations in attempts to undermine her credibility and said Snyder and the team would “seek damages” from her. Shapiro and WilmerHale did not respond to requests for comment.

The letter makes no mention of NFL involvement in the team investigation. The league’s personal conduct policy in 2009 required investigations of sexual assault allegations to be overseen by the league office, with Commissioner Roger Goodell determining any discipline. The team’s investigation in 2009, according to the letter, was overseen by then-general counsel David Donovan, who reported to Snyder.

The NFL and Donovan declined to comment.

In concluding the woman fabricated the assault, the letter says, Donovan cited the plane’s tight configuration and quiet engine, as well as interviews with passengers who said they didn’t notice signs of an assault or distress during the flight.

He also accused her of lying during the investigation, the letter states, by claiming she maintained an “impeccable personal and professional reputation.” To undermine that claim, Donovan cited allegations about the woman’s personal conduct, including that she wore revealing clothing and flirted with other men on the trip to Las Vegas.

The Post described the team investigation, as summarized in the letter, to three experts in sexual assault investigations, who said the team may have been justified in concluding that the woman’s claim was unsubstantiated. But these experts said the evidence cited in the letter does not prove the woman fabricated her claims, and they criticized the inclusion of potentially damaging allegations about the woman’s personal life, regardless of Donovan’s rationale.

Daniel Snyder pledged support for the NFL’s investigation. His actions tell a different story.

Daniel Snyder faced sexual assault allegation in 2009, document shows

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